Among writers and readers, friends and foes, the internet and that normal place where they have ice cream, I always read about soapboxing. A soapbox in a modern connotation is something you step on and give an impromptu speech about usually a political subject but also about anything that comes to your mind. At least this is what Wikipedia tells me. From many people online that have either read my writing or with whom I discuss other peoples’ works we often discuss the merits of soapboxing.
Sure, on the one hand its easy to do it. Write what you know and that usually involves our own personal opinions and fields of expertise. For me it worked out fine with my first book The Historian’s Crusade right here on this blog. I was unsure what to really write about, what was near and dear to me enough so that I could put it into a couple ten thousand words, form a narrative. And so I just did exactly that. Right now I think it’s a success, I had fun writing it and it got some pretty decent feedback on the blog.
Naturally, I decided to try the trick again when I wrote my second book on which I am currently sitting at around 60.000 words and still going strong (more updates in the future). Again I chose a subject that was near and dear to me, being a sequel it also deals with history, historicity, reception, ideas, all that theoretical boring stuff that nobody cared about and instead focused on the thinly veiled Star Trek Enterprise pastiche. With the second book though I stood before a big problem: not being able to write for all the different statements I wanted to make and this is where we get to the central crux:
Exploring themes and ideas is fine as long as you actually know what you are doing.
You can be the greatest theorist in the world, if you suck at presenting no one will ever listen to you. I eventually decided to jettison a lot of the ham-fisted elements of the story and instead focus on actually developing just that, the story. Making it more about the characters and the journey rather than a simple sounding board for what I was trying to say actually, so far at least, has improved my themes and message as well. I actually had to be selective about my writing, what to put in where, and I got to make some fun scenes between characters and in situations that the whole straightforward style would not have been able to allow for.
I am reminded in many ways of Star Trek, a franchise that, as frequent followers of this blog know, I have some deep issues with. The morality tales of classic Trek, of any Trek show really, are always the weakest aspects, and that’s because they preach and they do it in the worst way: you are not invested in the drama, the characters, and the emotions they are feeling. Many of the parts of Trek that were not meant to be the episodes with the most impact actually were the more classic and cerebral ones. The casualties of war, security vs freedom, grief, love, principles, all of which were themes explored in much better and less preachy episodes to great effect. Sometimes you just need to hide the medicine in some honey. Maybe the best way to evangelize is to not actually do so. Entertain people first and I guarantee you they will be more open to listening to your opinions on the world and life.